Wednesday, 17 April 2013

It's in the detail. Reference material in the Charles Hasler collection

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is purported to have said ‘Men who wish to know about the world must learn about it in its particular details’. Last month we began a documentation and conservation project focusing on a part of MoDA’s collection made up of  little bits of detail: scraps of wine labels, books with missing pages, old restaurant menus and envelopes. This reference material from the Charles Hasler collection is both a Museum registrar’s worse nightmare (bags and bags of little bits of paper!) and a fantastic source of inspiration and information about graphic design.

Wine Labels in the Charles Hasler Collection, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (CH/5/4/5).
Charles Hasler (1908-1992) was a graphic designer who worked from the mid-1930s to the late-1980s. He was involved in many high-profile exhibitions, displays, poster campaigns and book publishing in Britain. His work includes wartime exhibitions like ‘Make Do and Mend’, the 1951 Festival of Britain and some Transport for London posters. Hasler was an expert in typography and printing techniques (including photography) and to a lesser extent book binding. MoDA acquired the bulk of Hasler’s archive in the late 1990s. Other parts of his archive went to the University of Brightons’ Design History Research Centre Archive and also the Reading University Library’s Special Collection.

Hasler was a passionate collector of graphic design source material. This included greetings cards, cigarette cards, journals, invitations, books, exhibition catalogues, sales catalogues, prints, packaging, articles, books, business records, photographs, photocopies, manuscripts, slides, CTs, newspaper clippings and journals and trade literature. The aim of our current documentation and conservation project is to make this material more accessible to students and the public. We will be spending the next month counting, listing, photographing and conserving 1000+ objects which range from photographs and flour bags to first edition books and postcards. 

A range of packaging material types in the Charles Hasler reference collection, Museum of  Domestic Design & Architecture, CH/5/4/1.
Decorative envelopes are one example of the sort of printed ephemera in the Charles Hasler reference collection , Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (CH/5/4/2/4).

There are nearly 400 books in Hasler's reference collection, some of which are rare first editions. Hasler's books contain examples of fine illustrations, book binding styles as well as typography and print techniques. 
Museum of Domestic Design (CH/5/5).

Postcard cuttings in the Charles Hasler reference collection, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (CH/5/4/2/2).
The extent of most museum collections is such that curators, conservators and registrars have to be pragmatic and focus on what they consider the most significant items for documentation and conservation projects. It's fair to say folders of old envelopes and end papers can fall to the bottom of the list. Though Hasler's reference collection at first glance can look like many little, insignificant bits of scrap, you just have to look closer to see that, taken as a whole, it is a special collection of material that tells us a lot about graphic design. Watch this space! We'll keep you updated as the project develops. 

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